Hayes embracing mentor role for young Bucs

February 20th, 2024

BRADENTON, Fla. -- For a Pirates team anchored by a 37-year-old former National League Most Valuable Player in , a player 10 years his junior is emerging as an important leader.

As he prepares to begin only his fourth full season in the Majors, has become a source of information for many of the club’s younger players, some of whom called him a teammate in the Minors.

“I was just there in their shoes not too long ago,” Hayes said. “They're asking me questions, but at the same time, I'm still learning as I go. It's only my fourth or fifth year. In a sense, I'm one of the older guys now, so I just want to give them as much knowledge as I know and I'm able to help them with.”

Hayes’ institutional knowledge of the organization -- he was Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2015 Draft and debuted with the club in September 2020 -- is proving to be an invaluable tool. Among current Pirates, only McCutchen, Bryan Reynolds and Mitch Keller have spent more time in a Pittsburgh uniform than Hayes.

“I've been here my whole career, so a lot of these guys that came up, they've all known me for three and four years. That helps a lot,” Hayes said. “I'm not the loudest person in the room, but I've always been a hard worker, at least in my eyes. I try to play the right way and go about my work day the right way with purpose.”

That approach was cemented by veterans, including Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, Starling Marte and Jameson Taillon, who helped show Hayes the ropes when he arrived in the Majors not too long ago. In his attempt to pay it forward, Hayes makes a point to meet every new player in the clubhouse as quickly as possible, trying to make them feel at ease immediately.

“I think that's the biggest thing for younger guys -- for them to be able to see guys go about their day and just see how they prep before they go out and while they're out there,” Hayes said. “Have an intent with everything that you're doing, whether it be playing catch or running the bases, because all the good teams, all the good players, that’s how they play. I’m trying to lead by example.”

McCutchen continues to be a leader in the clubhouse, but for younger players such as Nick Gonzales and Liover Peguero -- who both played with Hayes at the club’s alternate site during the 2020 season -- there’s a comfort factor with Hayes that can be impactful.

“The player-coach connection is really good, but a player-player, sometimes it hits a little different,” Gonzales said. “With Ke’Bryan, who is on the younger side and has still been playing for a while and been a good player in the big leagues, it's good to ask him about some of his experiences. Cutch is a great role model, but having a guy who's a little younger is also good to have. They do such a great job of making sure that we know that they're here for us and we can ask them anything.”

Manager Derek Shelton lauded Hayes for his consistent mindset and work ethic, noting that even on his days off, he’s out taking ground balls.

“Leaders don't have to be people that are outward all the time; we've seen some of the best leaders in the game be guys who lead by example,” Shelton said. “Everybody does it in their own way. If people are going to follow him because of the way he works, then I think we're in a pretty good spot.”